Deciding to see a psychologist or psychiatrist is a pivotal point in many people’s lives. Often, however, it is difficult to know whether you’re just having a low spell or there is something more going on.
Many things can affect mood and mental well-being. Hormones, illness or physical ailments, work stresses, financial problems, family or relationship issues, a lack of direction in life, chemical imbalances, and of course a pandemic like Coronavirus – all of this contributes to your state of mind. The difference, perhaps, between a low spell and a persistent problem that needs attention, is time. If the feelings persist longer than a few weeks to a month, this may be an indication that there is more at play. Many people wait it out for too long, but professionals recommend that you come in sooner rather than later, so that the problem does not have time to develop even further.
Dr Katherine Stewart, clinical psychologist at Uplift Psychological Services in Redfern, Sydney, says it’s quite simple when you break it down.
“The reason people come to counselling is that they want to be happy in their lives. If your unhappiness is greater than your happiness or capacity for happiness, then it’s time to see someone.”
If you are still unsure, there are signs you can look out for in yourself:
1. Your relationships are taking strain
When we are unhappy or struggling internally, the first casualties are usually those closest to us. Our friends, families and partners often take the brunt of it as they know us the best and notice the changes in us the fastest. Sometimes we lash out at them in the struggle to admit that there is something awry, or simply pull away from them. If you have noticed that one or more of your relationships are suffering and you are at odds with loved ones more than usual, this could be a sign that you are needing to work through some things with a professional.
2. You don’t enjoy doing things that used to bring you joy
The capacity to feel happiness is essential to our lives. If things that previously brought you joy or relaxation no longer have that effect on you and rather leave you feeling like you’re going through the motions, counselling could help you determine what is sucking your enjoyment out of life.
3. You start to pull away from people and would rather be alone
Sometimes we turn to our loved ones in times of need and other times we prefer to work through things alone. When we start to pull away entirely, however, and prefer to isolate ourselves for an extended period of time, there is cause for concern. This means our internal world is consuming us and there is no space to deal with anything else. A psychologist can help to harness those thoughts and feelings and redirect them in a positive way so that social interaction becomes a source of joy and not something overwhelming and exhausting.
4. You’ve suffered a trauma and can’t stop replaying it in your head
Trauma has a very complicated effect on our psychology. Some people are able to deal with it on their own and work through it eventually, but for many of us, it is too much to unpack by ourselves. Maybe you have lost a loved one or gone through a bad breakup or had a harrowing experience. Whatever it is, it is likely to have a lasting effect on you. Learning to deal with trauma in a healthy way can help you to move forward in life and stop the repeat reel.
5. Your diet or sleep has changed or your physical health has taken a knock
If you have noticed that your immune system is run down, you are experiencing headaches or stomach-aches, or that your eating habits or sleeping patterns have changed, this is a potential sign that your mental health is suffering. Our minds and bodies are connected and can have a large impact on each other. Think of the butterflies you get before delivering a speech or the warm feeling in your stomach when you are happy and content. Your body sometimes tells you what your mind is not ready to admit.
6. You’re using a substance or sex to cope
If your intake of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or your use of sex or other escapes has increased recently, this may be an indication that it is becoming harder to cope with daily life. This is dangerous for obvious reasons and a psychologist can help you to learn healthier coping mechanisms to use when you are feeling down.
7. Your friends have told you they’re concerned
Finally, if your loved ones have gotten to a point where they are so concerned they say something, it might be time to listen. It is not easy to tell someone you love that you think there might be a problem. You don’t want to hurt their feelings or upset them or turn them against you and sour the relationship. People who really care about you, however, will put your well-being first as they want you to be happy and see you thrive. This might feel like judgement, but it’s actually love, albeit tough love.
Many people avoid counselling because they think that their problems aren’t big enough, or they don’t want to be stigmatised as being mentally ill. This stigmatism is slowly dissipating as the decades roll on, but it still exists and prevents people from seeking the help they need. Just as your body needs maintenance – you need to check your blood pressure, go to the dentist, attend physiotherapy if you develop movement problems – so too does your mind need maintenance.
Life is not always a walk in the park. Things happen and situations get thrown at us that we are not always equipped to deal with. There is no shame in seeking help for this. In fact, you should feel the opposite. You can be proud that you were brave enough to admit you need help and go out and actively seek it out. There are plenty of online mental health professionals who can help you right now.